Rigoberto Uran won an all-Colombian showdown on the steep climb to Salento to deliver the first victory of the season for #PinkArgyle on Saturday. The Tour de France runner-up out-sprinted compatriots Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Egan Bernal (Team Sky) and Sergio Henao (Team Sky) in the Colombia Oro y Paz stage five uphill finish.
“The team did a great job today from the beginning of the race,” said Uran. “We knew that I could do a good finish. Dani was strong on the last climb, but all the guys did important work that helped me take a very nice stage win.
“Winning in Colombia gives me great joy,” Uran added. “I have not done a proper race here in 11 years. To see so many people at the starts and the finishes fills me with deep appreciation for the fans and the sport.”
Eleven riders formed the early breakaway. The peloton kept the escape on a short leash, limiting the gap to no more than two minutes throughout the stage.
“Julian [Cardona], Alex [Howes] and Nate [Brown] were active to try to be in the break but only if the break was big,” explained Garate. “It took a long time for the break to go, and there were no big names in the move. From that moment, we knew the race was in the bunch.”
Having studied the GPX tracks closely, Garate prepared a race strategy that focused on a tricky and twisty section of the course that came eight kilometers before the finish line.
“I saw a video from Vuelta Colombia and knew this would be the most critical point,” said Garate. “We raced for first there. Hugh [Carthy] did a little bit of a lead-out on top with help from Nate. In the downhill, it split. We prepared this one strategy, and it was perfect.”
New signing Dani Martinez played the role of last lieutenant flawlessly.
“Everything I ask of Dani, he does,” said Garate. “He has a really good condition at the moment. I asked him to enjoy his opportunity today. I told him that everyone was going to look at Rigo, and he needed to close the gaps, but he could also go on the offensive. He did, and it’s what made the difference for Rigo on the climb.
“Dani is having a really good race with us here,” Garate added. “He showed already last year at the end of the season what he was capable of, but he’s confirming it with us.”
Martinez fell off the pace shortly before the last kilometre, leaving Uran with Quintana, Henao and Bernal.
“It was a very short final climb but very explosive,” said Uran. “I knew the finish, and I knew that it was very narrow. I was ready for it. It was to my advantage that the pace was so high. Dani did a phenomenal job to position me, and fortunately I was able to finish off his work.”
The inaugural edition of Colombia Oro y Paz will come to a close on Sunday with the race’s only true summit finish. The final ascent in Manizales is just shy of 20 kilometers and reaches 2,220 meters.
The top three on general classification will start the queen stage separated by only four seconds. Uran trails Quintana, who assumed the race lead on Saturday from teammate Julian Alaphilippe, by three seconds. Henao sits one second further afield at four seconds. Bonus seconds could come into play to determine the overall winner with three intermediate sprints offering 3-2-1 seconds and 10-6-4 seconds up for grabs on the finish line.
“The summit finish tomorrow will be quite hard, but I have a strong team that is ready to fight for the win,” said Uran. “The level here at this race is very high. It will be an interesting race.”
Despite all Uran has accomplished in his 12-year career, he has yet to take a general classification win. His most well-known results include second overall at the 2017 Tour de France and twice second overall at the Giro d’Italia (2013, 2014). EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale is committed to offering Uran the best possible opportunity to take his first stage race victory on Sunday.
“For us, it’s interesting that we have yet to see a break arrive to the finish,” said Garate. “For sure, Movistar will want to leave a break up front to take the bonus seconds and leave no chance for Rigo. Of course, we like the opposite. I want to keep the bonus at the finish line, which means I don’t want a breakaway to arrive at the line.
“It’s difficult to think we can take seconds on the road,” noted Garate. “There will be many attacks. We’ll need to keep our eyes open and be ready for anything. The bonus seconds at the finish are our best chance.”